tv Charlie Rose PBS October 19, 2013 12:00am-1:01am PDT
>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight, the great james levine on the metropolitan opera, music and his recovery from spinal cord injury. >> i had to be so exposed in this city this in order to have the -- to make use of the situation we had to keep making our results better. and the public understood this continuously and the interaction with them is so beautiful and i think it's -- i don't think -- it's not possible in art for everybody to like everything. but it is possible for them to understand what it takes to do it and that if it was so easy any idiot could do it lying down. >> rose: james levine for the hour. next.
>> dare yourself to play the first three notes in a speed and drive and force and power and excitement that you really think they should have. >> rose: the maestro is back. james levine is music director of the metropolitan opera. after missing two seasons due to a spinal cord injury, he returned to the met last month to conduct one of his favorite operas mozart's "cosi fantutti." here's a look.
>> rose: james levine has been a major force at the met for more than 40 years, conducting some 2,500 performances and shaping the way opera sounds. the "new york times" calls him "one of the greatest living conductors." this season he will also conduct a new production of "falstat." i'm pleased to have him back at this table. welcome. >> thanks, charlie, it's great to see you. >> rose: you look great! >> i feel great. >> rose: we'll talk about what you've been through and what you've learned. is that the happiest time for you? you're in that orchestra pit, you are conducting genius, mozart. >> yes. i would say it doesn't get happier than that. i mean, that's -- to be doing what you're cut out to do, what you have the talent for, the drive for, the wish for and especially under miraculous circumstances it was an amazing feeling.
it always is. >> rose: it must be especially amazing if you did not know whether you would be able to do this. >> well, i fell and my back -- i had had terrible trouble with my back. i was in tremendous pain. nothing seemed to cure it and i had to have surgery and once the surgery was finished and i was out of pain it was successful, i fell. and when i fell i didn't just hurt the surgery, i wound up with a major spinal cord injury. i couldn't some some things, i couldn't move my legs and gradually through a really caring treatment and therapy and rehab and all this it gradually comes back and i'm able to work again and my colleagues tell me-- and i can hear from the audience-- that they're not relating it to the way i was before i had to stop because of the fall but to years before when i really had the vitality
and i wasn't in any pain -- >> rose: you'll feel it? >> there's no doubt about it. i just don't pain. i get a twinge here or there and it's gone but i don't have anything -- nothing like a chronic pain anywhere. >> rose: did you doubt you might not ever stand there or be there again? >> when you're lying in a hospital bed and look down at your legs and can't move them, you think, yeah, you could conduct with my upper body but i wouldn't have been able to conduct without feeling some kind of flow through the whole -- because you conduct with your body on some level or the other even though it is possible to conduct just fine sitting down. many people do. but luckily the returns started to come and the surgery held and the nerves began to come back, nerves do it on their own time but i worked hard on the muscles
so i i'd have a possibility for the nerves to hook up again. and the therapists have got me now walking in a walker carefully and recently i started to climb up stairs. which is -- you know, was unthinkable when i was lying there and i couldn't move them. >> rose: did you learn something with this experience? >> well, you learn millions of things. first of all, i didn't know that i could work again and i thought to myself -- i always thought i was the luckiest guy in the world and i had 40 years at the met and 50 years of musical -- professional musical activity and i thought, well, if i'm supposed to stop now i will. and what can you do? and i would have pursued other aspects of music, there are many things that interest me, of course. but i suppose as i've found that
my dodd body began to respond and i was encouraged to work harder and harder at the rehab, the feeling that i wouldn't be able to do it just disappeared. >> rose: it is a triumph of the human spirit. >> no doubt about it. and there's one other thing that is really important in this case. for the entire time i got i got letters and phone calls and vibrations not just from my loved ones and friends and company but from the public, people i don't even know and i go in the park and need my wheelchair and people would just on their bikes go by and say words of encouragement and i felt more a part of the community than i had before. >> rose: you know it's a great feeling because you realize you touch people's lives but you
don't really know -- you know the music, you know the audience in the hall and you know the critics who say good things but you realize when you fire a place where you are that what you do connects to their life and brings something special. >> rose: i never realized it to that extent. i was moved so much by their -- they all said the same thing "come back, we need you whatever it takes." ♪ ♪ >> rose: you have said that you found yourself psychologically in a state from before you were injured. not at your best when you were young but even a better place. >> it was better because i'd been through that and i had this
experience which stopped me cold and two years of not conducting when i conducted all my life so it was -- i think -- i mean, it's a misfortune to have a spinal cord injury but i learned so much from the doctors and therapists and the whole teams of people who were working with spinal cord patients, a world i might never have known at all and when i went back to working i started off in the second year of my rehab, i wasn't ready to conduct yet but i went back working with the young artists in our young artists program and this is -- was so thrilling, i think, as i get older i feel it's a more important -- more and more important part of our work to pass on our experience to the next generation. and -- i got sort of back into it that way and i really still feel like i'm living in a dream
and that i've got out of that nightmare i was in. >> rose: 70 is not old for a conductor. >> no. >> rose: subpoena that because music just makes you young? >> well, largely. i think it these do with -- something in -- apparently the way conductors work. >> rose: the movement of hands and -- >> yes, the way you move and it makes you tired so you sleep and i think most conductors who died before living to a ripe old age either had some congenital ailment or they smoked continuously so they got smoke-related things. >> rose: when you went -- i think carnegie hall was may, 2013. tell me about that. >> you mean the first concert that -- >> rose: yes. >> oh, this was unbelievable. this was like you dream
something positive and then it happens even more in reality than you could believe. and, charlie, i don't go through life sentimental all the time. i really don't. but there was no way i could be in that experience and not feel touched and moved. it was right where i lived. it was there it was my met orchestra, music we never played before but music that i'd done often and wanted to play with them and there was that and that was audience giving us every bit of concentration and support and love and excitement and so now we had to put things back together that we had to stop or diffuse over the past two years and we had plenty of things moving forward at the time when i had to suddenly stop. >> rose: you found music when you were very young.
>> yes, i did. >> rose: or music found you. >> music found me. i apparently could sing before i could talk properly. >> rose: tell that story! it's amazing! >> my dad used to sing songs to me and i apparently could remember the tunes and carry them, i'm told, long before i could speak coherently. which some people would say i still can't speak coherently but at least it got better. >> rose: but it was i thought -- perhaps they thought you had a speech impediment. >> i did have. and that was interesting because the doctor when my parents called a very remarkable pediatrician who had been my doctor since i was born. i was born prematurely and the -- my parents were very worried and the doctor said "there's nothing wrong with that baby. he's just little and i don't want to hear one word from you until he's three years old about how he's not keeping pace with the other kids."
and, of course, we saw what happened. in fact, it didn't matter. but people didn't know that then. but this doctor was very percent perceptive and when i was three i used to walk by the piano and reach up and bang on it and when my mother complained to the doctor about my speech impediment the doctor said "what's he interested in" she said, well he bangs on the piano and he said piano lessons. so i banged on the piano and my speech impediment went away. >> rose: you were on stage when you were 10, weren't you? >> yes, i made my debut as a pianist with my hometown symphony, the cincinnati symphony when i was 10 and i'd already played piano recitals in the studio of my teacher before that. >> rose: but it is true music found you. i mean you were there -- this thing that should shape your life and bring you so much joy. >> i'm just one of those people
who was able to do exactly what i was best cut out to the do. and -- i mean who had the chance to do it. and i was lucky in every way, charlie. the teachers i needed there are at the right time. the opportunitys were there at the right time. i couldn't have had more good fortune. as a result, of course, i worked very, very hard. because i felt -- i had to come up to the gift and -- and i think spinal cord injury was as close as i folt a real problem that has to be solved and now two years later we're looking like the doctors and therapists think i can still improve quite a bit because apparently the nerve regeneration is very, very slow but it is clearly happening. >> rose: so how do you approach your year now? we we've just begun a new season here. how do you approach it? do you say "my god, i'm going to
choose those things that i'm so passionate about, that i so much want to do, so i so much want to share. >> well, it would be nice if you could do that and you do that to some degree but i think basically what i have to do is i have to move slowly and steadily increasing balancing styles of repertoire, things that the company needs, things that i need which are usually the same and just keeping us stimulated along the tracks we were on before i fell. and it's tricky because planning is done several years in advance and so many people asked me how i chose these three opportunities and it wasn't really like that. it was one by one the ones i was supposed to conduct i didn't because it wasn't -- i wasn't ready for conducting yet. and when i did -- when we
projected that we thought it would work then the best choice and the best layout for me would be these three pieces and that's how we're doing it. >> rose: currently among your favorite or -- >> oh, always. >> rose: that's what i thought. >> i never agree to conduct something that i'm not so close to that i could say it was my favorite while it was going on. it's -- they're just -- there's so much great music and there is no need to conduct something you don't feel the deepest affinity for. >> rose: are you finding new things? >> always. >> rose: from mozart are you finding things -- or whoever it might be for you, are you finding new answers that -- >> from both. from new composers that but i do one thing that is a little bit different for some of my colleagues. there are a lot of my colleagues who are in situations where the quantity of new music they can do is greater because if they are ahead of a symphony orchestra the turnover is one new program every week whereas
at the met i do three programs with my orchestra in a season because of all the operas and opera rehearsals and that makes sense to me. that's good. but it's always been a kind of -- there was always much more great music that i felt close to than there would have been time with three lifetimes to do and so i'm interested in doing some things i haven't done before and i'm interested in repeating things that i haven't done before that i need to do better and there begins to be a small group of things that i think must be a i'll leave alone because i don't think i can do them better or they're not a high enough priority. >> rose: there's nothing -- i can't imagine this but i'm going ask it anyway. there's nothing you haven't wanted to do where you said to yourself "i'm not quite ready for that"? >> i've done that often. >> rose: have you really? >> it's funny because i did some big projects when i was young
but they were things i thought -- i learned something from one of my i told you my great teachers fell in my lap from the heavens like magic and george zell said to me "you should conduct certain pieces ----" it was the mozart g minor symphony. huh said "you won't do it well until you're 40 but do it now." i understand what he meant. he meant don't try to crack it for yourself new later on down the road. and i was that way with some pieces and i was always a person charlie, who i know what i know but what i don't know is a closed book to me. i never was happy with superficial knowledge and i could never go and hear a performance and feel i was close to the piece at all without really looking at the score, really hearing the performances, really living the within it. >> rose: are you deep into interpretation in terms of where the composer was at that moment, at that time and what was in his
head? >> yes, i'm into all the things that it takes to try to get as close to what the composer would want were he alive today. >> rose: take a look at. this this is -- we have several things to show but this is a pbs documentary, james levine american maestro in which a young levine is being instructed as you mentioned, by your mentor george zell. here it is. >> every piece of music should start inside the player before he plays the first note. he is a one-man orchestra which, of course, makes things a little less complicated. ♪ ♪ >> out of long experiences i tell you the shorter your down beat will be the more precise the attack. your upbeat can be a little bigger than the down beat if you do one, this -- i mean if your
key starts to turn at the moment you do this. ♪ ♪ very good! >> many f my cheeks start to tremble -- (laughs) he was something else. >> rose: tell me what he meant to you. what he gave to you. >> he was a remarkable conductor particularly of classic repertoire and he built -- i mean, he became music director of the cleveland orchestra in the middle 40s. and he was always conducting at the met. he conducted several seasons at the met. i think -- in cleveland he had the opportunity to build a european style classical european orchestra in america with americans.
and he was -- when i was a student we used to go and hear all the visiting orchestras that came to carnegie hall but one orchestra my friends and i always had to go to was cleveland because it was interpretively penetrating and more and more marvelously played. and when i finished with juilliard i was taken in ha competition to go to baltimore for some weeks to do a repertoire project with the baltimore symphony with visiting conductors leading us, is helping us. there were four of us. and zell came to the audition and he liked what he saw well enough to tell me he had a position open on the conducting half? cleveland and he would love to audition me thoroughly and take me for it if it worked the way
he thought it would. and for me this was exactly what i needed, as i say, always the right thing at the right moment. it was just what i didn't know anything about. i didn't know how to deal with a single symphony orchestra as an entity the way i really did more know about operatic structure. and i went there and i was with him from 1964 till he died in 1971 and i think it was 1971, it may have been 1970. i lose it now. but i think during that time i observed him, i asked him many questions, we spent many sessions together going over music that was related to music that he was doing but not always the same music. and he recommended me for some of the first professional for work that i got. in fact, i date my professional
conducting to 50 years next year in 2014 because it was 1964 when i started in cleveland. >> rose: were there moments you knew you wanted to conduct? >> oh, yes, there was. it was in 1956 i spent a summer at the marlborough festival and my general music teacher-- not piano teacher but music theory-- walter levine, he called and asked mr. certain if he would take me and certain was only skeptical because i was 13 but he took me. and in marlborough there was not yet the concert hall there is now. we used to have concerts in the hall that was the hall that they converted into a concert hall after lunch. and i learned so much there
about ensemble and making music with other people that are from then on the idea of just developing as a solo pianist went away from me and i had to make music with other people, all kinds of chamber pieces, songs and little by little i got the bug about doing some phonic and orator y'all and operatic repertoire. there was only one person there who was a kuch conductor to assist on cosi fan tutte believe it or not. that was the opera they were doing that summer and they asked me if i would put the pianists together and make a backstage chorus and i did. there wasn't anybody else there to do it and i got bitten by the opera conducting bug then. >> rose: and what a lifetime it's given you. >> hasn't it? >>. >> rose: falstaff this year, how
are you going to do that? >> we're going do a new production and i've done a good number of the revivals of that production that was the only one there my time >> you have described it as the creme de la creme. >> rose: >> yes. >> rose: why is that? what is it about it? >> let's put it this way. if you take all of the great operatic comedies, the really great one. if you take figaro and the bard and bride and don pasqual and -- i'm sure i'm leaving some out and you take all the human comedies with them or the best of them is falstaff. it's a mir miracle of libretto, story line, music cal inspiration, mastery of every detail of composition. it's in a class with figaro and
meister sing cher are perhaps the other two that that will almost perfect. i don't need them to be perfect, i love a lot of pieces that aren't perfect but those are the creme de la creme of operatic comedy which is striking because 80% of operatic repertoire is grandiose, tragic, melodramatic, somebody dies. in these pieces the human beings get wiser and through a lot of circumstances which they play seriously but we find very funny >> rose: who else has been instrumental in terms of helping you appreciate, a, the music and b, being mentored to you or in opening distance to you. who are the men and women who have been there that have helped you understand all the limitless potential of music. >> it's a long list, charlie.
it's a long list of official teachers like george zell who was my mentor there. wolfgang mcconnell who broke open the idea of having an assistant in the opera workshop in aspen and had me conduct the last performance of whatever opera we were doing starting in 1962 i did that when i was 19. from the time i was 10 or 11 i had walter levine, the first violinist, for all the musical -- for everything, for theory, for harmony, for repertoire, for style. he even coached me on the instrument playing chamber music with his students. it was an unbelievable education starting -- i mean of the kind that one goes to college for but i was 11 when i started it. then i went, for example, to marlborough and there was claude frank and a whole community of brilliant teaching musicians and
then i went to aspen to study levine because she was the most dynamic teacher of the instrument at the time and she was very well known for working on technique but she took me knowing full well that i was trying to use the piano as a tool for conducting mostly and i didn't know how much i wanted to perform on the piano. turned out i did want to and did do quite a lot more than i pictured when i started. but she was willing to start with me when i was 14 and in aspen every year were first of all -- well, darr east coast mio, the great mio the head of the composition faculty, he brought contemporary composers with him every summer so once had a chance to talk with him
and hear their music and work on their music. just, for example, i conducted albert herring in front of it composer benjamin briton while i was there. i think of that now because we're doing a beautiful revival of "midsummer night's dream" and it's briton's hundredth year if he was still alive. but i think one after the other -- just perhaps it can be seen better if i say whatever i conduct a french piece or play a french piece behind me are jean morrell, my teacher at juilliard, a very french and brilliant conductor. jenny turelle, who i studied with and played concerts with for yearsegine crespa like wise. pierre boules who started conducting in cleveland when i
was starting and he worked with me on his music and second vie newcenter 5 i can that i needed to learn and manuel rosenthal came to the met and conducted our french triple bill and he was literally connected -- i mean, he was a ravel protege. the point is all of this flow through-- which i always try very hard to get because i -- i just felt we were getting further and further away from composers and when the pieces were so written and dwlapt to happen to me. >> rose: wh when you stand there or sit there you sit or stand on the shoulders of giants. >> that's right. >> rose: who helped you understand the music. >> this is what makes it critical to me >> absolutely. >> rose: do you see extraordinary talent? >> yes, without any doubt. i see -- individually i see plenty of talent.
the phases change and the priorities change and there are institutional and structural crises but the talent keeps coming, thank god. >> rose: do you worry about orchestra and do you worry about opera and do you worry about its future? what can i say? we always worried? >> rose: so on the one hand you're absolutely there. and why is that? oh, lordy, good question q. depends on which part of it we're going examine. perhaps the easiest way to start examining it is to say imagine that you were a singer or a conductor or an instrumentalist
who was 30 or 40 or 20 or 50 years old when the premier of the last verdi operas came and verdi died in 1901. now, there were people who heard him, people who studied with him people who studied with the generation of the people who signed him and little by little there were two world wars, there was the jet plane flying people around where their brains could go but their bodies couldn't go that fast and there was some problem with that and gradually the teachers thinned out and so it wasn't -- i mean, it was bound generationly to become diffused and at the moment if you go to the opera the best performances you hear are likely
to be of relatively contemporary operas or newish operas and relatively old ones. broke ones -- baroque ones, mozart, that sort of thing. that's because the old ones have gotten old enough that we can reinvent the way we do them without it worrying people and the new ones because we're close enough to the substance of the work. but that large output of 19th century -- that kept the big opera houses hot when i was growing up and before we can't do anything like that density of that repertoire now days just because of the quantity of the kind of singer. they come along but they don't have the same -- it's one thik come along and hear it on the radio and your opera house left and right of you it's another thing if there's only one two
others of that quality spread around the whole world it's hard for them last as long because of the burden. some of them do remarkably with all that responsibility but there are times when we worry about that. >> rose: i assume could do it exactly the way you did it. >> well, i don't suppose i would be able to change it much but i would do it -- let's just say if i had it to do over again i might change a detail that i no now more about than i did then. >> rose: but would you have composed? >> no, i wasn't a talented composer. i was a dutiful composer because i wanted to learn about it. but i was a recreative musician,
not a creative one. fortunately i never got confused about that. when i go around trying to do is making sure that conductors don't get delusions of grandeur about who wrote the piece. >> if i look at you and so many of the -- and we mow the names of the great conductors, the symphony or opera or other things would there be a common link among the great ones? >> the great ones are functioning in a certain realm. they are functioning with great understanding of the way the music the put together. they're functioning with a high energy and high desire to communicate what they find in these masterpieces to an audience of listeners. they are perceptive and skillful
on various levels in communicating with an orchestra and getting an orchestra who are playing the instruments-- the conductor is just waving a stick-- to get them to be as committed as they can and as they would be on their own and get all this communicated to the public. this all great conductors have in common, i think. then if many other things are a matter of degree. so there's a violence, an excitement, a togetherness, a focus that is absolutely not beaten in any other piece written before or after and burn the e-flat as best you can. and hold it, burn it, yes! ♪ ♪ all right, now rip it off! >> rose: when it's a perfect
storm for a piece and your orchestra and you, does it somehow go up in -- do you feel like i realize i'm in a zone, i realize something is happening this evening? >> a very good question. i tell you what happens. music is not an art form that are deals really with the concept of perfection. you have hundreds of people in an opera performance singing and playing for hours and somebody's lip slips or somebody's finger slips. an accident happens. that's not of any consequence. but you can feel it unmistakably if you have a large group or small, if the piece is small group of highly talented and really dedicated artists who've really worked on the piece and who understand the technique of
rehearsing and then releasing. you can feel in that zone more frequently than i ever thought possible. it doesn't mean you think the performance can't be made better. it's just that you know you're in the realm with respect the composer would say "good job, that's my piece." >> rose: you just explained to me something i didn't understand about music. what can happen, what can with go wrong -- i understand sports more than i understand music and i can understand how you might throw the ball further than you wanted to and therefore it's an interception rather than a completed pass. but it's the same thing in part with music. >> rose: when i come to the end of a met season, for the last three weeks or so i can feel the audience is applauding not just for the performance they are at but they're saying thanks for all the high points in this terrific season. they're saying "your batting
average was high." it's -- and that for a music director and for a conductor who -- oh, i had to be so exposed in this city in order to have the -- to make use of the situation we had to keep making our results better and the public understand this continuously and the interaction with them is so beautiful and i think it's -- i don't think -- it's not possible in art for everybody to like everything. but it is possible for them to understand what it takes to do it and that if it was so easy any idiot could do it lying down. >> rose: you expect a level of high performance. >> you know, charlie, i'm sorry to interrupt. there's an another example that comes up to me all the time. "what do you look for in a singer" people say to me. i say i look for the best in
that singer. that individual singer. but when singers audition i beg them if they're going to audition come out on stage, do you thing and don't spend a moment on whether or not you get this job or not. you have no idea what the people who are listening are looking for, you have no idea what their criteria are and what their conception of the part may be and you may sing marvelously and they give the part to somebody who's a different element or a different -- who knows. or you may have a not particularly good day and be exactly what they were looking for and this is -- you can't get out there and audition for human being every time you have to audition for a job. >> rose: you can't get their expectations. >> no. and it's -- if that just is an example of what you're saying that there's a kind of ultimate what one wants to hear is a
singer clearly functioning with what they've got. and what you don't want is somebody trying to make -- to make up for something that isn't there. i always beg young singers not to audition too soon. not to audition when they may have something that wan year or two could be easily so remedied and then when they audition no one would be able to tell what they'd had forever and what they had only learned in the last two years. >> rose: you understand this more than almost anybody. this is what you've learned about singing and singers. >> lordy. you ask good corkers. that is always like walking on shifting ground because it's a science only to a certain point
and then it's an art. but at least we do know enough about it to be able to use people who do it well as models and demonstrators for people who need to learn to do it well. and there are still some really good coaches and teachers not perhaps as numerous as there were at one time but they come along because the kind of singer who's in demand also changes with the time. >> rose: ah. >> now for example -- well, just consider when i was a kid it literally didn't matter at all whether a singer looked plausible in a role at all if that singer could sing the spots off it.
and i'm not sure that an audience today has that same conditioning. i think an audience -- i remember -- i remember a great letter that came -- we used to do full-length performances of operas for students, for kids and now we do it differently. we do specially formatted things. but 100 years ago when i was just starting we did a performance of "aida" for young kids and their teacher had them write letters to me after it. and one kid wrote -- he thought that consider that the girl who sang the title role of "aida" didn't really look so beautiful it would have been good if she'd sung more beautifully. and i thought out of the mouths
of babes. you see, that's the thing, it's the combination. if somebody comes on stage and doesn't look like your dplapl rouse idea of aida but when she opens her mouth oh, wow, she can phrase and sing and soar, you don't know what she looks like anymore. >> exactly. you see what you imagine aida to look like in your eyes because you hear the voice that's so -- >> an opera drama, don't forget, no matter what is never going to be repertoire theater drama because it's sung and it goes across the pit and the emotions are a certain size. and operatic acting is somewhat different from ensemble theater acting. but you sure do know it when you've got it. >> rose: should a city like new york have more than one opera company? >> absolutely. >> rose: sad, isn't it? >> terrible. the saddest. desperate. >> rose: it really is a tragedy that you don't. >> and, i mean, a company that
people who were still alive, julius ravel put his lifeblooded in that company for all that time and it out-- he outlives it. i mean, that's unthinkable. insane. >> when you look at peter gelb and you, is there in some way can you argue that this is a perfect match because of differences? they compliment each other. hear you and hear peter. what do you say about the director of an opera house and the driving force musically of an opera house? what need be between them to create great art. >> rose: charlie, all i can say to you is when -- with peter when it works it really works.
i mean between us. >> rose: yes. >> and we're on a track now that i think continues -- i mean, it was so important. what peter thought of this is crystal clear. if he had been a different kind of general manager, a different kind of man he would have said well, we don't know when jim will be back or if he'll be back i have to move on. but he found aa way to keep the company protected enough and to keep the option open that if i came back let alone came back in really good form that i could continue. i can assure you day after day that wasn't so easy to do and the company had to absorb a lot of shock and he had to i am -- i
can only say if we're dealing with a man made of that who then when i come back of -- and i'm -- he's just delighted that it is more than ever thought it could possibly be after an injury like that and we're getting along marvelously. i think -- and i work with an awful lot of general managers, all different styles at different times and opera always has difficulties of various seriousness and -- but i think peter is so determined to solve the cry shows that occur in his time and he's so intelligent about it that i am -- god knows
for the metropolitan opera i will always give anything i can. that's just where i made it, a life commitment. and you just -- you don't do that because of something external. it just is. it's like -- i guess it's like marriage. >> rose: and in the end your legacy will will be you think? >> what do i think it will be. it's very hard to think of performances in terms of legacy because performances are ef necessary sant. i guess if one wants to look over the period i've been there up to now we brought a lot of operas into the repertoire that are great operas that hadn't been there before. we launched and worked success a young artist development program which has people holding up their art form all around the world. and we've nurtured a lot of our own artists as well as
continuing always to try to bring the best from other places and we brought the quality of our night-to-night performance at its best up to a higher and higher level and i think we have initiatives now which will perhaps yield us more new works but i always -- i'm -- if you asked me do i think we do enough new works? no, i don't. but i don't agree with the people who measure what we do by that. because one conductor was there for years and he did new operas one after the other. american operas he was determined. and he did them and they were gone and i -- it's very important to me that this
business of working new pieces doesn't become like hit-and-run. i feel very uncomfortable when i spend a lot of time studying, rehearsing a piece and i really see what it has and then it's gone. and, for example, at our concert on sunday we played elliot carter's variations written 1954/'55 and elliot just passed away a year ago and i -- i've played that piece with our orchestra. the met orchestra. i mean an ork orchestra that plays opera all the time. we've played that three times in our concert series which means any one who doesn't want to hear it doesn't have to go but people who do want to hear on it can count on there be a way of hearing it again and that's
important to me. i just -- i'm not very interested in the quantity, i'm interested in the quality and the memory and the depth of the experience. >> rose: that's the most interesting answer i have ever heard to that question. people will say "everything he did was great but did he do enough of this?" and you know that criticism. that's a response to -- >> it is. i was once told the met should do a new opera every year and my response was i wish i really thought there was there was a new good opera -- a new opera good enough every year. and that makes it sound as though i'm putting new composers down. i'm not at all. it's that for something to succeed at the met it has to be studied, it has to be rehearsed, it has to be cast, it has to be digested, it can't just be crammed like people do for an exam and they don't remember anything about it again. that syndrome is really bad i think. i don't think that's helping
any. whereas if you look over the last years what we've done that hadn't been played at the met before you'll see some brand new works and you'll see some recent works. but you'll also zero seenny's -- arguably rossini's greatest comedy which had never been played before. two operas of mozart which we play and play. we have the seven great mozart operas, years ago there were only three. a lot of verdi that wasn't there before. a lot of -- there was no handle at all. 1984 was the first handel opera in the met. and there's britain and stravinsky and there have been new works of -- by a lot of composers which i hope in some cases will stick around and be
revived. >> rose: the question of legacy-- one who knows little about music but understands a few things-- it seems to me the legacy the people say first do no harm. come to a place and do no harm. >> right. >> rose: and second is you leave it better than you found it. >> yes, absolutely. >> and it's the idea as i talk to corporate people that have done something, is it's not an individual product. it is a culture, it is a company it is a place where they were in a sense of being attuned to the idea. >> it's just what you're saying. that it these do with all of the things we did that raises our night-to-night standard and the variety of our repertoire and the opportunities for operatic artists across the board.
i often say to people if you give me a list of works you would like to have seen us do in the last 40 years you will remember for each one you give me you'll have to strike off one that we did. >> rose: so many people are happy to see you back. >> i can feel that. it makes it possible to do it. >> rose: thank you for coming. >> thank you, charlie, a pleasure. >> rose: james levine for the hour. thank you for joining us. see you next time. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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